You’re so tall, someone I never saw before greeted me in the bus. He wasn’t so tiny himself. No, I’m not, I replied. You’re not tall, the guy wondered out-loud . No. You’re small – that’s it.
Of course, it is obnoxious to typify someone by a characteristic that he didn’t work for, even if meant positively. O, you’re so black, orange, beautiful, etc. Rather than making you stand out, it renders you invisible. Just as “ugly” and “beautiful” people complain to be overlooked, the ugly by being ignored, the beautiful by receiving stares.
Genetics and History
Men from the Low Countries are the tallest in the world, on average. This is already true for millennia. The Ancient evil Romans had Dutch body guards because they were the tallest. And among the tall Dutch, I was among the tallest, from the start. I was born after a pregnancy of 8 months and already a full centimeter longer than the average Dutch newborn. When I was hospitalized in an emergency at the age of 11, I woke up from the anesthesia in a bed in the children’s ward that was at least 20 cm. too short. (If one feels tall depends on how you compare to people around you, not on your absolute height.)
I once went to Maastricht in the most-Southern part of the country, from where two of my great-grandparents hailed. (The others were from the Northern Netherlands. My grandparents met half-way in Amsterdam at a choppe – “from a choppe comes a choppe.”) When I emerged from the archive of the Maastricht Jewish community, I saw two “ancient” people sitting on a bench in the sun. They seemed so old, they might have known my great-grandparents. I walked over to them. This is my chance to ask about people who all died. What were their character traits, what was their social status, did they stand out as Jews?
I greeted them and asked: did you happen to know my great-grandparents so-and-so? They looked at each other and said in unison: giants! That’s all I got out of them. Genetically, I never had a chance — to be small.
However, genetics do not predict foolproof. If there is no starvation, statistically, children end up a little taller than the average of their parents. But we know that in one family some may be tall and others short. And the children of them can easily be short and tall too. Most tall people find small people cute and most short people find tall people handsome, so they often end up marrying each other. Physicians call that “negative partner choice.” It’s not negative; it just means that they chose their opposites. But I know a couple of whom both spouses are very tall; their first two kids are giants, but the third is a dwarf who needs growth hormone. G-d does have a sense of humor.
None of my ancestors came from the Netherlands. After all Jews were exterminated or chased away twice in the Middle Ages (a history chapter the Dutch conveniently ignore), my ancestors all came from outside: Germany, Poland, Russia, the Alsace and one from Spain. Why my family is tall is not clear, but also why the Dutch are tall is unknown.
And most Dutch Jews are small. Many Jews assume that I must be a convert to Judaism. I don’t even have converts among my ancestors in the last 10 Dutch generations.
It’s not true that one can’t do anything about it. In the Eighteenth Century, at the begin of the Industrialization, the British working class was introduce to tea, because giving this to children keeps them smaller so that as grownups they needed smaller clothes, smaller beds, smaller houses and supposedly smaller salaries.
In Israel, where most Jews are small, giving small children tea is normal. In some neighborhood I cannot walk the sidewalks because the trees are not trimmed high enough. A visit to Israeli cemeteries is always reassuring to me as all graves have a concrete rim that measures on the inside 190 cm. – I’m not going to die.
On top of the above, generations in the West get taller and taller and the reason for that is a medical mystery too. (Once the reason was completely unknown but through hard work and steady progress we can now say with certainty that we don’t have a clue.) When I entered high school, there was one guy taller than me in the top class. When I left high school there was one guy taller than me in the bottom class.
People have the strangest assumptions about tall people.
That we are strong. Rather, we should watch our backs. Moving a piano: let someone else do it. Tall people are probably fantasized to be strong by the same misunderstanding that small children would be weak – they are not! Try to get a baby to do what it doesn’t want to do. I once had to give a young child an antibiotic syrup that he disliked. The doctor insisted there was no alternative. I apologized to the kid while two grownups immobilized his four extremities and his head, I worked the syringe between his teeth and pushed it empty. He then threw it all up and still won. I congratulated him. Stupid doctors.
That we are smart. We have overview and are to be looked up to. Probably same misunderstanding: that children would be stupid. If only we would be able to hang on to our childhood intelligence!
That we would be violent and mean. We understand that many people were physically abused when they were small, but it wasn’t us. Probably because of this misunderstanding, most tall men are really sweet – the only option we were given. I love to walk up to someone almost as tall as me, get really close and say: And you thought you were tall? Fun.
That we run faster. Our legs might be longer but our bodies are much heavier. And that’s still without calculating in, that we’ll have more contrary winds (just kidding).
Then there is the assumption that genitals of tall people are also oversized, which oversexed people can’t get out of their heads, it seems. Sometimes I see women stare at my crotch. Maybe they stare at all men’s crotches — who knows. No recommendation to start a conversation with them.
And then there is the Will you be my daddy? expectation. Many of us were removed from our fathers’ laps too quickly because our size gave the wrong impression that we must be now fit to fend for ourselves. People assume that we will be natural leaders — and arrogant.
It’s a light form of racism. Height is one of the first things people notice about you, it is hard to hide, and even before you open your mouth or do something, others have already an opinion about you. Still, tall people should not stand stooped over. Pride goes a long way.
But — when you need people to understand your position as a tall person, they can easily deny any difference. Why would you want to change seats in the bus — no one is entitled to a special place. That you won’t fit in 95% of the seats must be a lack of your humbleness, clearly ….
In a fair world, we would get more salary or pay less taxes, because tall life is more expensive. Clothing, shoes, belts, beds, linens, chairs, bike, car, etc. that would fit us are more expensive and less seldom on sale. We might even need more food and sleep.
What to answer
Anyone who stands out (pun not intended) gets picked upon. It can be frustrating, and so here is a collection of answers for other tall people to use. The toothlessness of having no comeback plagued me all through adolescence and into adulthood. Well, no more powerlessness!
“You’re so tall.” — “No, you’re so short.”
“Is it cold / what is the weather up there?” — [You spit a little bit in the direction of their face and say dryly] “It rains.” They never ask again.
“Do you play basketball?” — “Do you play marbles?”
“Wow, you’re so tall. / Can’t I get a few centimeters from you?” — “Jealousy is not a virtue.”